One million computers have now downloaded a screensaver which uses the 'idle time' of PCs to screen for anti-cancer drugs.
Since the project was launched in April 2001, with the sponsorship of Intel, these computers have completed a combined total of nearly 50,000 years of work, and screened 3.5 billion molecules against two protein targets for potential cancer fighting ability and returned the results to Oxford University's NFCR Centre for Computational Drug Design, where the results are being processed.
Participants in the screensaver lifesaver project come from all over the world, from Azerbaijan, where 21 users have so far completed a year's work in computer time, to Zambia, where three users have completed 61 days of screening.
Nearly 50,000 devices are using the screensaver in the UK, and have completed more than 5,000 years work.
Participants in the screensaver lifesaver project download a non-invasive drug-design software package called THINK, written by Keith Davies from Treweren Consultants and run on United Devices Global MetaProcessor Platform a US-based distributed computing technology company (www.ud.com), and are sent units of molecules via the internet for their PC to analyse.
The software creates a three-dimensional image of the molecule and tests it for interaction with a number of target proteins which are known to be implicated in the development of cancer, for example proteins which are responsible for cell growth, or enzymes which stimulate the blood flow to tumours.
Molecules that interact successfully with a protein register as a hit, and these hits are ranked according to strength of binding and sent back to Oxford for further investigation. For the first two targets about 1 million hits have been registered and these are now being refined.
The researchers are aiming to test the interactions of molecules with a total of 16 proteins, two of which have already been completed, and two more largely so.
Professor Graham Richards, Chairman of Oxford's Chemistry Department, who is leading the research project, said: 'When we initially started this project, we thought that we would be able to screen 250 million molecules within a year. Now, due to the wonderful response which we have had from people across the globe, we are able to screen more than 3.5 billion molecules against each target, so I would urge people to keep on downloading the device. Any one of the molecules which you are sent could provide the basis for a new cancer drug, and the more molecules we are able to screen, the more likely we are to find effective cures.'